5. Symphony of Emergence 


Axial China: 
Continuity and Discontinuity


Section 5 .2.4

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon




  5. Symphony of Emergence  
     5.1 Cycle, System Return: The Axial Age  
        5.1.1 Non-genetic Evolution
        5.1.2 Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation
        5.1.3 Art, Evolution and The Tragic Genre  
     5.2 Stream and Sequence: The Axial Transitions   
        5.2.1 Archaic Greece: The Clue 
        5.2.2 The Old Testament as Eonic Data 
        5.2.3 Aryans, Hinduism, and a Buddhist Revolution
        5.2.4 Axial China: Continuity and Discontinuity
        5.2.5 A Flowering of Greek Tragedy and The Birth Of    Democracy  
     5.3 A Rebirth of Freedom...Cycle, System Return       
     5.4 On The Threshold of World Civilization  
        5.4.1 Slavery, Abolition, and Eonic Sequence
        5.4.2 Religion and Empire   

 6. Transition and Modernity


    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

     5.2.4 Axial China: Continuity and Discontinuity


As we see from the parallel echoes in this synchronous phase, there is no inherent difference between the East and the West. The Chinese Axial intersection is beguiling because its isolation shows the eonic effect in a displaced and attenuated form, and the effect of a creative period one third of the way through an otherwise relatively continuous stream.

The Chinese Axial Interval The strange thing about the Chinese instance is that it is almost invisible, on the surface. But the clues are there to an exact match if we can understand them. The change of character in the eighth century Chou era, the appearance of classic tradition ca. -600, and the resolution to empire in exact concert with the Hellenistic, tell us that we are seeing something in disguise, or else a politico-democratic trend toward equalization ideology that never fully realized itself.

The Chinese case proceeds rapidly toward integration as empire, as a political construct, after the Warring states period, in the same time-frame as the Hellenistic. This continuity is remarkable and we find the later Sung period, and the near take-off of a great economy where the West is in a medieval period. Part of the difference lies in the relative isolation of Chinese civilization from the Western transitions (although not from external invaders). However, the diffusing sources from the first transitions in the Sumerian field are what trigger (as far as we can tell) the rise of the mideonic Shang era, and before. Note by comparison the immense number of collisions in the Mesopotamian downfield, resulting in the emergence of the integrator religions. Taoism and Confucianism are the parallel equivalents, a unique blend of the political, philosophical, and mystical. There is an irony in the later diffusion of Buddhism to China, for in Taoism we see another variant of the same.

What evolutionary theory will then accept a transition  one third of the way through its history? Thus, as we ponder the relevant era in light of this continuity, our consideration of the fundamental unit of historical analysis will force us to consider something operating independently of the actual stream combinations of culture. Is there any support for such a strange idea in the literature? Kwang-Chih Kwang, in The Archaeology of Ancient China notes the turning point in the Chou era (eighth century), and observes, “A new era in the history of North China began in the Eastern Chou. In political history, ancient China consisted of the Shang and Chou dynasties, but in cultural history, the subdivision may be placed at the Middle of the Chou dynasty, dividing the Shang-Chou periods into two stages.” [i]

Far too much analysis has been given to the question of why science in the modern sense didn’t emerge in China. Despite being a very advanced culture able to develop in isolation (though, please note, with nothing like the emergentist democracy phenomenon), the emergence of modern science appeared in a less developed region. But as we look at the eonic sequence, the reason is clear. The mainline eonic sequence tends to hug its basic center of gravity, and diffusion rich fields near that.

Comparing the Chinese and Greek transitions is interesting because of the clear, but intangible, common denominator behind the clear difference in historical generation, and the ringing chord of philosophic ‘enlightenment’ that comes ashore in spite of causal diversity. The history of its transition is the history of its philosophic generation, and the transposition of ‘science, mysticism, monotheism, philosophy, and political ideology’ in recombination that shows a glimpse of the ‘eonic abstraction’ at work. In the strange dynamism of the Taoism and Confucianism we find the synchronous ‘eonic equivalent’ of the occidental monotheisms, an extraordinary alternate universe that bypasses so many of the confusions that arise in the west, and a clear indication that the forms of ‘revelation’ are in fact ‘free action’. But the western religious forms will end better adapted to cultural integration, at least in principle. In practice, the entry of the Chinese philosophies into the West almost from the beginning of the modern era and their popularity and influence on the philosophes shows the real case of greater universality.

Science and Civilization in China The example of China is instructive, since it is so lateral to the center of gravity of eonic sequence, yet shows uncommon continuity, along with technical expertise that never, however, gets the full ‘eonic amplification’ of the emergent science all too obviously hugging the ‘central track’ out of Sumer. The recurrent birth of science is a function of the triple phase track out of Sumer, with the mideonic efforts to keep it afloat the gestating result by the Islamic world during the medieval slump. Even so we find the invention of printing, gunpowder, and the compass as mideonic Chinese inventions that dawdle in isolation to first cross a transition after diffusion to the stepping stone region in the West. The attempts of Joseph Needham to study emergent science in China are perhaps excessively focused on the wrong factors. The main issue, given the ‘case of the missing centuries’, is the center of gravity of the eonic sequence, not the claims of Western technical superiority. China never even received the main early scientific texts, or had the direct influence of the Ionian or other intimations much more available to the ‘near-far’ Milesians. We see the clear difference of technostream and the intangible eonic determination.  



  Web:  chap5_2_4.htm


[i] Kwang-Chih Kwang, The Archaeology of Ancient China (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), p. 386. A developmental history of the Analects, Bruce Brooks & A. Taeko Brooks, The Original Analects (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).





Last modified: 09/27/2010